Chapter 12: Left for dead, but living for Christ!
19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city.
And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’
23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.
27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
The cost of sharing the gospel
If the two fugitives can flee from Antioch in Pisidia to Iconium and on to Lystra, then their persecutors can follow them there also. This is what happens. The Jews pursue Paul to Lystra and persuade the multitudes to stone him. Here we are in a non-Jewish city witnessing an unlawful Jewish intended execution by stoning. The victim’s ‘crime’ is that Paul has preached the gospel of forgiveness through faith alone in Christ alone. His broken body is dragged out of the city like a dead animal. They reckon they have killed him at last. He is left for dead and presumably dumped and abandoned as so much garbage. Has the brave and godly apostle prayed his last prayer, preached his last sermon, won his last convert, and lost his last battle for life? Barnabas escapes the same fate at their hands. We are not told why or how. Maybe they target Paul as the leader and as a traitor, through their strictly orthodox Jewish eyes.
Lifeless in Lystra? Dynamic in Derbe
But now the disciples gather and stand around him. Some of them are brand new Christians. This is their induction into how to serve the Lord in preaching the gospel. Surely they must now pray together as they gather around the smitten apostle. This has to be a prayer meeting when it is needed most. God answers their prayers. Whether Paul was dead and is brought back to life, or nearly dead and restored to health, we cannot say, because the Bible does not say. All we know is that the battered apostle—so recently believed to be dead by his cunning, cruel and vigorous opponents who stoned him—now rises up and enters the city. Unlike our newspapers, the Bible understates amazing and staggering events in such a low profile and factual way. It simply says that Paul gets up and goes into the city. A miraculous immediate answer to prayer seems to have happened and we have just seven words in verse 20 to cover it.
But see what follows. After his stoning, Paul could have claimed time off for stress. But with God-given courage and determination he departs the next day with Barnabas to go to Derbe, forty miles or so to the east of Lystra. This is not a rest day, or a day for the two men to lie low away from their would-be killers. At Derbe, they preach ‘the gospel to that city and’ make ‘many disciples’. The day that could have witnessed Paul’s funeral (taken quickly in that hot climate) saw the ‘dead man’ engaged in proclaiming the message of new and eternal life in Christ. He is making ‘many disciples!’ Ignoring his safety, he seeks converts for Jesus and disciples who will not only enjoy the certainty of going to Heaven after death, but who will live for their new Lord each day. They will reach others with the same message that has saved them. Jesus’ real disciples battle on despite opposition and fears. Paul is a real disciple of Jesus. Are you?
Then they come back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch to strengthen ‘the souls of the disciples’ and to exhort them to ‘continue’ in their faith in Christ. These two Spirit-filled, spiritual pioneers warn the new converts that they ‘must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’. Paul is certainly very well qualified to explain that to them! He continues following Jesus, and challenges others to trust and follow the Lord. But it costs him dearly, as he tells the Corinthian church on a different occasion:—
Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.1
‘Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb?’ was the favourite hymn of C. T. Studd, the England cricketer and missionary pioneer, and sums up Paul’s attitude. It asks the question:—
‘Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease
While others fight to win the prize and sail through raging seas?’2
This shows the mind of Paul at work. He now goes back to three cities to strengthen disciples and to encourage them to continue walking with Christ. What are those places? Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia. These are the very hostile cities where so recently Paul and Barnabas suffered opposition, persecution, expulsion, violence, death threats and even, for Paul, stoning. Yet they soon return to help their Christian brothers and sisters. They trust God to use them and, if it is His will, to protect and deliver them. In our soft western Christianity the smallest things stop Christians doing what they should do, going where they should go, and being what they ought to be. We should remember the example of the brave apostle Paul and remember God’s grace that enabled him.
Paul’s daily and deep concern for all the churches
To answer Paul’s daily and ‘deep concern for all the churches’3 which he expressed to the Corinthian church, three things are done. First, elders are appointed in every church. Elders are spiritual leaders and Bible teachers who work together as a team of equals to run a church.4 Second, they pray and fast. Fasting means going without food, for a time, so as to concentrate that time on praying. Third they commend the believers to the Lord in prayer. They pray for them. These three means of grace bless every church and every Christian that values and benefits from them.
Travel, reporting back, and fellowship
Paul and his companions now journey through Pisidia to Pamphylia and then back to Perga. They preach the gospel in this major Roman and Mediterranean city, about two hundred miles north of Cyprus. Wherever they go, the gospel goes. From there they go on to Attalia to sail back to Syrian Antioch, where they were commissioned to the work.
After arriving there they report back to their commissioning church. They report ‘all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles’. It is thrilling to hear God’s servants telling what has happened and to put the emphasis on God, where it should be. Christ’s servants must be faithful in living for their Lord, work hard for the gospel, and be clear in urging sinful people to repent from sins and put their faith alone in the Saviour who died for them. But when blessing comes to men and women turning to Christ, it is God’s work and power that causes that to happen.
Paul’s first missionary journey is now ended. Barnabas and he now stay ‘there a long time with the disciples’. Even gifted and influential Christian leaders need close fellowship with other Christians. No doubt they will teach the church and help individuals, but they will be blessed too by the two-way sharing of time and experiences with members of that church who are not well known. Christian fellowship is so important. We should invest in it each Lord’s day, each time we can get to the church’s Bible study and prayer meeting, and whenever we can have informal or additional God-honouring time with others who have come to know Christ irrespective of their church allegiance. That is why we are told clearly, to ‘consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching’.5 Enjoy Christian fellowship whenever you can. Go to be blessed. Go to be a blessing to others. If you do not yet know Jesus Christ as your Saviour, go to learn from others how you can come to know Him.
Questions on Chapter 12
Acts 14:19–28 Left for dead, but living for Christ
A. How many things do you find in this passage about the kind of Christian that Paul is?
Acts 14:19–28, Acts 26:15–23, 2 Corinthians 1:1–11, Philippians 3:1–16
B. What do you learn from this passage about disciples?
Acts 14:20–22, Acts 11:26, Matthew 16:24, 2 Corinthians 11:23–28
C. Why are faithful church elders who fast and pray such a blessing to those who value them?
Acts 14:23, 1 Timothy 5:17–18, Matthew 6:18, 1 Corinthians 7:5, Philippians 4:6, Isaiah 40:31
- The passage quoted, 2 Corinthians 11:23–28, is part of Paul’s defence of his apostleship to those who say he is not an apostle. ↩
- Hymn written by Isaac Watts—in Young Life Hymnal. ↩
- 2 Corinthians 11:28 ↩
- See Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch, Lewis & Roth Publishers: same title for the book and for the summarising booklet ↩
- Hebrews 10:24-25 ↩